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The theme is that outward appearances do not determine the person you are or will be. Prejudice is a very destructive force, and it can lead to bullying. Bullying is very prevalent in school-aged young people, and it leads to tragedy, both internal and external. Bullying has resulted in murders and suicides at its most extreme. The toll on one who is emotionally bullied can last a life time and poison relationships with others. The self-esteem is so damaged that it causes a ripple effect of negativity on those people around the bullied person. If a role model or counselor comes along that allows the bullied to look beyond their tormentors and focus on their strengths, an entirely different life can result.
Another theme that would be important to discuss in today's world (and/or today's classroom) would be school bullying. One doesn't have to look even further than the main character: Maleeka Madison. Maleeka is the main victim of the bullying. In fact, she is teased mercilessly both for her skin color and her homemade dresses.
If bullying is a theme then there is not only a victim, but also at least one bully. The irony of the bully's in this book is that they involve almost all of the other school children including the only other black boy in the class. Further, it should surprise the reader that another black child should bully another one about being the very same skin color.
Another aspect of the bullying theme is the discovery of how the main victim (Maleeka) deals with it. Other than having severely low self-esteem, Maleeka tries to cope with the bullying by befriending the roughest girl in the school, Charlese, yet another bully. Of course, by the end of the story, Maleeka realizes that neither bullying nor being bullied is the answer. Maleeka learns to love "the skin I'm in."
An important theme from “The Skin I’m In” is the notion that trying to be someone you are not in order to fit in with certain people will only lead to negative consequences. This theme is evidenced by Maleeka’s new attitude as she enters the 7th grade. She’s a great student with lots of potential, but she can’t appreciate the good in her life because she’s tired of being bullied for looking different. Maleeka tries to conform herself to what she thinks will finally allow her to fit in at school, but in the process loses sight of the things that make her special and unique. There is only one Maleeka – there is only one of each of us – and we should celebrate our differences, as hard as it may seem, instead of trying to be like everyone else. Ultimately, changing who you are to fit in with a particular group will only cause problems for you in the long run.
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